Adjusting to more Americans in Kandahar

Colleague Wells draws our attention here to a fascinating window into the state of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan.

In a government video of a briefing in the Kandahar village of Deh-e-Begh, we hear the top Canadian officer in the field, Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, talking about how the arrival of more U.S. soldiers to do much of the fighting in the region is allowing Canada’s focus to shift.

“This is a logical turning point in Canadian operations,” Vance says. “The mission can transition to where we can focus more effort on reconstruction, development, and governance.”

This transition has been coming for several months. I would trace it, at least in part, to comments made by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, back in February, when he came to Ottawa for meetings as part of the advance work for President Barack Obama’s visit later that month.

Pressed by reporters on what Canada’s roll should be—given the government’s plan to pull Canadian troops out of combat in 2011—Mullen stressed the need to “surge civilian capacity” to “get the governance piece right.”

To have to put so much weight on the importance of the American presence in Kandahar, and on the Pentagon’s view of what Canada might usefully contribute, irks my nationalist soul.

Yet it’s only realistic to assume that the dominant U.S. position in the Western coalition in Afghanistan means that nothing Canada does will make much of a difference, or even much sense, if it isn’t designed to fit with U.S. actions and planning. And, right now, it appears Canada’s stance in Kandahar fits.

In fact, I’ve noted before on this blog that Brig-Gen Vance himself wrote insightfully about the obvious limitations of independent Canadian strategy in exactly this sort of coalition operation, in his 2005 essay provocatively titled “Tactics without Strategy, or Why the Canadian Forces Do Not Campaign.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.